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Biden Receives Encouragement From Babbitt : Ex-Arizona Governor Raps Reagan Military Strategy in Mideast

September 23, 1987|JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writer

Presidential candidate Bruce Babbitt volunteered encouragement to beleaguered fellow Democratic contender Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday, and then delivered a hair-raising revilement of President Reagan's military actions in the Mideast.

Appearing at a Studio City breakfast gathering organized by state Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), the former Arizona governor opened his remarks with an unexpected plug for the senator from Delaware:

"This business of campaigning--I'll tell you it's a real circus. I've been watching Joe Biden's difficulties with emotion and sadness over the last week, because I'll tell you, it's tough.

Difficult Stresses

"It's a long road; its alleys are long; the stresses on families are very, very difficult. I called Sen. Biden a couple of days ago just to share my sense of compassion and encourage him to stay in the race."

Biden has acknowledged plagiarizing speeches, overstating his achievements and fabricating his heritage during his presidential campaign.

Babbitt declined to discuss the substance of Biden's campaign behavior or its impact on his political future, but he said he was speaking as one brother of the political fraternity to another.

"He's my friend. I've been campaigning with him for six, seven or eight months. Our families have become friends. I've gotten to know his kids; he's gotten to know my kids. It's just a personal statement."

Assails Strategy

Babbitt, making a two-day fund-raising swing through Southern California, also hit hard at Reagan's strategy in the tangled war between Iran and Iraq.

He described the President as "reactionary, narrow . . . (and) paranoid" in leading the country into the dangerous Persian Gulf, shipping arms clandestinely to Iran, supporting Iraqi peace initiatives and coming to the aid of Kuwaiti commerce with the U.S. Navy. He said Reagan was mistaken in believing that U.S. involvement was necessary because of a growing Soviet presence in the region.

"He heard that the Kuwaitis were on the run, so he put American flags on Kuwaiti ships carrying Kuwaiti oil to Japan--in a gulf where American-owned tankers are flying Panamanian flags carrying Iranian oil to Japan.

'Who Is on First?'

"Now who is on first?" Babbitt asked. "He persists, itching to get into that war."

Babbitt, however, defended the U.S. attack Monday night on an Iranian mine-laying ship in the gulf.

"Perfectly appropriate," Babbitt said. "It was stopping an act that was directly in violation of international law. I believe that America has important stakes in keeping international waters open. . . . But we must draw lines. . . . The answer is that we should be in international waters but reacting only to violations of international law."

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